I read very few biographies or autobiographies. There really aren’t many people in the public eye I want to know more about - certainly no-one in politics (with the possible exception of Tony Benn). I see books in charity shops by - and about - celebrities such as Russell Brand, Chris Moyles and Graham Norton… and they stay on the shelves. I don’t know much about these people, and I wish I knew even less. There’s a book by Jonathan Ross, with a rhetorical question for a title: Why do I say these things? Why? I don’t know, Jonathan, and I certainly don’t care.
On my travels, however, I’ve read a memoir by Joseph Heller about growing up in Coney Island. That’s got to be interesting, I thought, but I was wrong. It was really dull. Heller put everything into Catch 22, and I don’t think he really had anything left to say. I’ve read a book by Jo Brand, called Look back in hunger, which was so-so. A life of Krishnamurti, by Mary Lutyens, filled in a lot of detail about his early years (not that there’s any real need to know much about the man when his own words are what matters).
I recently finished Appetite for Wonder, by Richard Dawkins, which I enjoyed, and now I’m halfway through Hitch 22, by Christopher Hitchens. Knowing his way around the English language as well as he knew his way around the world’s trouble spots, he was incapable of writing a dull sentence. Zelig-like, he seems to have witnessed, at first hand, some of the most momentous events of the last half century, and he had a lot of famous friends (and enemies). As a writer he could turn his hand to any subject that required intelligence, intellectual rigour and an open mind.
He skewered the shortcomings of belief without evidence in his book, God is not Great (and is there a better, more ‘in your face’ book title than that?). Hitchens became, along with Dawkins, the ‘go-to guy’ for any debate that required a voice of reason whenever some dead-eyed cleric or self-appointed spokesman for Islam was being interviewed in the wake of a terrorist atrocity.
Hitchens put the boot into Judaism and Christianity too (savaging the more ludicrous aspects of the Catholic church, and giving the now-beatified Mother Teresa a good kicking). But it was Islam that really fired him up. The idea that the rest of the world should show respect to this barbarous faith filled Hitchens with rage. He unravelled the more tyrannical aspects of Islam, defining Muslims as “humourless, paranoid, insecure, eager to take offense, and suffering from self-righteousness, self-pity and self-hatred”. He summed up his feelings about the religion, more consisely in a video, available to watch on YouTube. Exasperated by the way the debate was going, he concluded, “Don’t waste my time. It’s bullshit”. Christopher Hitchens died too young, aged 62, in 2011.
A brief exchange yesterday with a lady in a charity shop, as I was buying a book…
She (looking at the book jacket): “What is it… fiction or non-fiction?”
Me: “Well, it’s about God, so… I’d say it’s fiction”
She (unable to find the right button to press on the computer screen): “Ah, well, it doesn’t really matter”.
Me (affronted): “I think it does!…
Misty morning by the Thames near Lechlade...